Monday, April 02, 2012

Keeper of the Flame - Josef Skvorecky 

A touching portrait of Czech writer Josef Skvorecky as he returns home in 1990 after living in exile in Canada for twenty one years.

Josef Skvorecky was born in Nachod, Czechoslovakia in September, 1927. For two years during World War II he worked in a German aircraft factory. When the war ended he travelled to Prague where he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine in Charles University. However after his first term Skvorecky moved to the Faculty of Arts where he studied Philosophy and in 1949 he graduated.

He continued his studies and in 1951 gained a PhD in Philosophy. Between 1952 and 1954 he carried out military service in the Czechoslovakian army.

Skvorecky wrote his first novel The Cowards in 1949 though it would remain unpublished until 1958. Czechoslovak authorities subsequently banned The Cowards. The editor of the company that published it was arrested then subsequently sacked.

Following the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia and the repression of the Prague Spring Skvorecky and his wife Zdena Salivarova went into exile in Canada.

While resident in Toronto he founded, along with his wife, 68 Publishers, which over the next twenty years published books banned in Czechoslovakia. Dissident writers such as Vaclav Havel, Milan Kundra and Ivan Klima all had their work published by the Skvorecky’s at a time when they were unable to do so in Czechoslovakia.

Along with The Cowards, Skvorecky’s best known works translated into English include The Miracle Game, Miss Silver’s Past and The Engineer of Human Souls. He also wrote four collections of short stories featuring Detective Lieutenant Boruvka of the Prague Homicide Bureau. His non-fiction includes the collections Talkin’ Moscow Blues and All the Bright Young Men and Women.

Much of Skvorecky’s work deals with the effects of totalitarianism and the repression of both the Nazi and Communist regimes. His work also touches on the experience of living in exile, the wonder of jazz and cinematography.
Josef Skvorecky died in Toronto on January 3rd, 2012.


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